In 2002, the year after The Verve Pipe released what to date is the band’s last studio album, singer Brian Vander Ark hit the road, but not in the typical way.
Needing “some sort of cleansing,” Vander Ark says he got rid of most everything he had except for a 1994 Ford Fleetwood RV.
“I traveled with that and a duffel bag and a shaving kit and a guitar,” he adds. “I followed a couple of bands around the country, just playing as much as possible.
“I had gotten so tied up with material things,” Vander Ark adds. “I had a great condo in downtown Grand Rapids [Michigan] — we’d have after-hour parties, and your friends aren’t really your friends when that happens every single night. So I said, ‘Screw it,’ sold as much as I possibly could and hit the road.”
The end result, Vander Ark says, was that he “was able to strip myself all of the anxiety and garbage that comes along with stuff and having planted my feet somewhere where I shouldn’t have. I [also realized that I] should have been on the road promoting and playing as much as possible as an acoustic act after spending the previous 10 years fronting a rock band.”
Vander Ark still fronts The Verve Pipe; the band plays about a dozen shows per year. But when it comes to recording new music, he’s done that under his own name in recent years. His latest is a self-titled effort that was produced by Bill Szymczyk, whose credits include albums by The Eagles, Bob Seger and The Who.
“Bill was a fan of my album Resurrection,” Vander Ark says. “He approached me when I played a show in Charlotte and said, ‘Hey, I’m Bill Sim-sick, and I didn’t recognize the name because I don’t think anyone knows how to pronounce it. And he said, ‘Well, I worked with the Eagles.’ And I thought, ‘I don’t know this guy.’ And he gave me his card, and I looked at it and said, ‘Oh my god, I know that name.’ ”
Music fans best know Vander Ark for “The Freshmen,” a Top 5 Billboard pop hit for The Verve Pipe in 1997. He still plays the song during his solo concerts, but he’s not compelled to alter it dramatically.
“I’m not a big fan of that sort of thing,” Vander Ark says. “There’s a point where that can be really interesting, then again in a ridiculous way it can be predictable to change it up. I let it stand the way it is.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Brian Vander Ark on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Oct. 1: The Living Room — New York
* Oct. 2: World Cafe Live — Philadelphia
* Oct. 4: Ashland Coffee and Tea — Ashland, Va.
* Oct. 5: Gravity Lounge — Charlottesville, Va.
* Oct. 15: The Evening Muse — Charlotte, N.C.
* Oct. 17: Downstairs Live — North Augusta, S.C.
* Oct. 18: Eddie’s Attic — Decatur, Ga.